A Kruse down
PICO RIVERA HISTORY - KRUSE DAIRY
The history of Pico and Rivera didn’t just start in January of 1958. Long before that date, the two communities had been thriving farm lands with large groves of citrus, avocado, and walnut trees. At the very north end of the town of Pico stood a dairy farm.
“At that time, it was just a dirt road, nothing like it is today.”
This dairy farm was owned by one of the more recognizable families in Pico Rivera, the Kruse Family, and they operated the Kruse Dairy.
Today it is nothing like what it used to be over 100 years ago. The land has drastically changed and in fact has been reshaped due to the construction of the Whittier Narrows Dam. Imagine the San Gabriel River easily accessible to swim in with free flowing clean water, a flat land un-interrupted by hills and with endless possibilities. That’s what the land at the far north side of the town of Pico looked like when two immigrants from Germany, Henry and Anna Kruse, came to this relatively unknown part of California in 1907.
The Town of Pico wasn’t the first stop for the Kruses. Their long journey started from Ellis Island in New York, soon after they traveled to Emporia, Kansas where they settled there for about a year and then made the trek to California. They arrived to the state in 1904 and settled in a town called Whittier. They worked on the Leffingwell Ranch for three years before moving to the small town of Pico.
The year was 1907, and the Kruse Dairy Farm was established. It started off small, with just a small herd of cows being milked with the product being shipped to local creameries. As time passed, the size and operation of the Dairy grew and by the 1930s Henry’s son Walter joined in and went into the dairy business with his father. By 1945, Walter had taken over following Henry Kruse’s passing.
The dairy farm as one might imagine, was run like any other dairy farm. Cows had to be milked twice a day, from 1:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m., and then again from 1:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. In between that, the cows were fed, given water, and manure was removed. To feed the cows, alfalfa was grown and hay was purchased. It was a daily task that was critical to the operation of the Dairy.
Walter Kruse would expand the Dairy by having a milk processing plant built between the years of 1957 and 1958.Due to the local housing boom, Walter saw opportunity to sell the Kruse Dairy product and a Drive-Thru Convenience Store to sell the products to the local community was built as well. Through the years of operation, the Dairy produced and sold several products including different types of milk under the Kruse name such as non-fat milk, low-fat milk, and half and half at the convenience store recalled Walter’s son Wesley Kruse. In later years, the Kruse’s would purchase other dairy products to sell such as cottage cheese, ice cream and bread.
The Dairy operation grew with the evolving economy and at its peak the dairy had 15 employees living near or on the Dairy Farm and nearly 500 cows. When Henry and Anna Kruse first started the dairy, it was over 40 acres, through expansions and lease properties with the Army Corp of Engineers, the Dairy peaked at nearly 300 acres.
By 1965, according to Wesley Kruse, Walter Kruse essentially woke up one morning and decided he no longer wanted to operate the dairy anymore. By that time, the land that once held the cows and all the Dairy buildings had all but disappeared. Walter Kruse sold the last parcel of land and all that remained is the Kruse Dairy Drive-Thru Convenience Store and processing plant. The Drive Thru and processing plant was eventually taken over by Dean and Ethel Doty. Most of the land the Dairy Farm occupied was claimed by the Army Corp of Engineers to build what is now the Whittier Narrows Dam.
Taking a drive around the north end of the City, on Kruse Road, one can only get a sense of the size of the Dairy Farm that once occupied the vast amounts of land that was available over 100 years ago. According to Kruse, most of the corrals were located where the Pico Rivera Golf Course stands today. The houses that housed some of the employees are all but gone as well. Of the eight houses that once stood on the Kruse Dairy Farm, only two remain including the original Kruse Home.
The Kruse Home is a story in itself. According to Wesley Kruse who lived in that house from the time he was seven years old until he was about 20, the house was going to be torn down by the Government due to the construction of the Whittier Narrows Dam. Wesley’s father made a “wild bid” on the house and paid $400 for it. In 1952, he had to move the Kruse home to its current location, just south of the Kruse Dairy Drive-Thru. Soon after, the property necessary for the construction was claimed and the US Army Corp of Engineers began construction of the Whittier Narrows Dam.
Through all this, one thing has remained and never changed - the name of the street, Kruse Road. There’s a unique distinction when one has a road named after their family. However, as described by Wesley Kruse, it occurred in the 1920s for more of a practical reason rather than ceremonial. As rural electrification was being rolled out, a way to identify the area was to name the road by which the family lived on and it so happened to be the Kruse family. Ever since, it has been Kruse Road. “We can thank rural electrification for having the street named after my family,” said Kruse. “At that time, it was just a dirt road, nothing like it is today.”
As stated previously, the last remnants of the Kruse Dairy operation is the Drive-Thru Convenience Store that was built nearly 60 years ago. It is the only operational component left from Kruse Dairy. All the original Kruse Dairy buildings that remain are now leased to third parties including the Drive-Thru Dairy. The Drive-Thru, as it was intended, continues to serve the local community seven days a week from 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. offering of course dairy products and other small grocery items. The Kruse Dairy operation as it was over 100 years ago, no longer exists with the last Kruse branded products sold over 40 years ago.
When the last parcels of land were sold, Kruse Dairy became the Kruse Properties Company, a family partnership that includes Walter Kruse’s son Wesley Kruse. Through the company, the partnership owns several properties in the Pico Rivera and Whittier areas.
As Walter Kruse was able to direct the Dairy business around the evolving local economy and trends, Wesley Kruse continues to do the same with the Kruse Properties Company that was created from the Kruse Dairy. “We have what we have, we might try to expand a little in the future, maybe acquiring more property” said Kruse. “Basically, it’s probably what it’s going to be - a legacy for my children.”
The current Kruse Dairy is located at 9621 Kruse Rd on the north side of the City.